Monday, 31 March 2014

the one where jennifer gets lost on dartmoor

The weather is improving and I've been dragging a pair of dogs all over Dartmoor at every opportunity.  The first such foray into these longer walks gave us all a bit more of a hike than I was counting on.  I was following a 7-mile circular route from Manaton, down the Bovey Valley then cutting across to Lustleigh and then back to Manaton via Lustleigh Cleave.

I parked at the public car park in Manaton, my first visit to that village.  It is safe to say that I have never set foot in a more unfriendly village.  I was stared at as if no one had ever seen a dog before, some people didn't even reply to my "good morning" greeting, and the locals would rather run me over at speed on the narrow lanes than wait for me & 2 dogs to get out of the way for them to pass.  Luckily I did find one friendly resident in a stable yard who asked me about the dogs and pointed me in the right direction for the foot path which was eluding me in spite of my written directions.  I should have realised then that my directions were less than ideal. 

It was a route I found online - someone's blog, I think.  Anyway whoever recorded the walk must have been doing it from memory, and it turns out he has a pretty rubbish memory.  Several of the route markers listed were in the wrong order so that I passed the "kissing gate below large boulders" before stumbling purely by chance upon the "wooden bridge over the stream" listed sometime before.  And then occasionally, in the middle of of the Forest of Nowhere, there would be crossroads signposted in obscure directions that didn't get a mention at all - "Lower Combe" huh? - "Manaton via Water" er, I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be headed for "Foxworthy" (wherever that may be).   

This was the reason I managed to add a whole extra hour onto the beginning of the walk by accidentally (and illegally, as the paths are meant for paying customers, apparently.  Oops.) taking the slippery, steep and rather treacherous and fun Red Route circuit of Becky Falls.  Oh, and apparently dogs are meant to be on lead there.  Oops again. But it was all the fault of the poor directions.  Yes it was. 

Neka & Tuuli posing by Becky Falls
It was a lovely diversion, although I was rather dismayed to find myself right back where I started once I finished the circuit.  It did give me the opportunity to pass the Money Tree, though.  Legend has it that a serpent lives in the river near this spot and occasionally devours unsuspecting travellers.  By leaving a coin in the Money Tree, the spirits of the place (Pixies) will make you invisible to the serpent so that you can pass unmolested.  Anyone who dares to take a coin from the Money Tree will arouse the wrath of the Pixies.  "You have been warned" reads the info sign, and by the vast number of coins tucked into the nooks and crannies of the tree, no one does dare to face Pixie ire.  I'm a big fan of woodland spirits, so needless to say, I didn't pass without leaving an offering. 

Many coins in the Money Tree
Eventually we got on the correct path and things went well all the way down to territory around the Clam Bridge, an area familiar to me from my regular walks coming from the other direction.  A clam bridge, in case you don't know, is the most basic of constructions, comprising a flattened tree trunk slung over a river with, if you're lucky, a single hand rail.  Why it's called a clam bridge, I don't know.  Unless it's because you have to clam-ber out of the river after falling off the bridge. 

Luckily this particular Clam Bridge has recently had a new, safer replacement built next to it so I am in rather less danger of tumbling into the Bovey on a regular basis.  But here's what it looked like before the new addition.  Rustic and romantic, to be sure, but precarious as the devil too.

Clam Bridge, Bovey Valley, Dartmoor
From there, the long but relatively easy climb up the other side of the valley, all the way to Heaven's Gate at the top.  When you reach the top and catch glimpses of the views over the unfortunately tall hedgerows, it's easy to see where the name came from. 

Last leg of the climb to Heaven's Gate
View from Heaven's Gate down toward Pethybridge

You have no doubt heard that what goes up must come down, and take it from me, when one is walking long distances, the opposite of that adage is even more true.  (If a true thing can be more or less true, that is.)  So it was with rather mixed feelings that I "enjoyed" this long, steep descent through Pethybridge into the famously picturesque Dartmoor village of Lustleigh. 

Pretty Lustleigh lane
Lustleigh has a famous pub, The Cleave, which I had never visited before.  I can now highly recommend it for welcoming, dog-friendly service, delicious-smelling food and a small but beautifully situated beer garden.

Break for a drink and a rest at The Cleave
And it's a very good place indeed to stop for a rest when you're about to get lost and do approximately 3 times more climbing than you had bargained for.  A pretty climb, though, to be sure, and I picked a lovely spot to stop for lunch that I estimated to be about half-way to the top.  Of course it turned out to be nowhere near halfway to the top.  By the route we ended up on, at any rate.

Leaving Lustleigh, headed for that distant hill.  In theory.
Lunch break
 I'm not sure at which point I realized I had gone somewhat off course.  But I was running out of water, could see an unscheduled tor in the not-very-far-distance and there was no sign whatsoever of a path leading back down into the cleave, where I knew I had to be.  I was much higher than I was supposed to be, but the views were breathtaking.  The more off the course I wandered, the better the views, and the more I worried about how little water I had left, how tired I already was, how much my feet hurt, and how far I still was from my car or any kind of civilization. And to cap it all off, my phone was running out of juice too, so I didn't dare take any photos.  Here is one I did take before I realized just how wrong my location was.

"Aren't we supposed to be over there?"

I checked my location on Google maps and discovered just how far I still was from Manaton.  Then, just in case, I sent that map home in a text for when a search and rescue team had to be dispatched to find me at some point after nightfall.  By now I had covered 14.4 km, or the best part of 9 of the 7 miles I was expecting.  And, according to my route tracker, in these 9 miles I had climbed 1,345 metres!  More than 4000 feet!  Can that be true?  That's as high as Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.  Granted I didn't climb all those feet in one go, but it sure felt like it.

I'm that dot - on the wrong side of the valley.
It was unexpectedly sunny and warm up there exposed to the elements, but I found some rainwater collected in the hollow of a rock so the dogs could get a drink. Determined to find a path down the valley, I stomped onward over the grassy moor through gorse and an ancient orchard.  This was rabbit country, apparently, so in addition to being hot, thirsty and tired, I also had to drag two dogs who were on a mission to hoover up all the poo they could find.  Finally I had to concede defeat and re-trace my steps back down towards Lustleigh.  At this point, if I had had someone I could call to come and rescue me, then that is exactly what I would have done and covered the miles between Lustleigh and my car at Manaton in comfort.  However, I don't and I didn't so I couldn't. 

At this point my phone was getting seriously low on charge so I switched it off and unfortunately lost the use of my route tracker at the same time.  This is what I got before switching off.

So I don't know exactly how much further I ended up having to walk, nor how much climbing was involved.  Unfortunately.  Because it was a lot.  I estimated an extra 5 kms or so, but looking now at the map it was probably more than that.  And much climbing.  MUCH.  And no, it didn't only feel like a lot.  Although, to be sure, it did indeed feel like a lot.  Because where I was supposed to cut across from point 12 on the map above in pretty much a straight line down and up the valley to Manaton, I simply could not find the right path and so I actually went from point 12 back to point 6 and then retraced the whole rest of the route back.  Needless to say, this time I was careful to avoid the additional illegal detour around the falls.

Even Tuuli was happy to pause for a rest on a bench nearly back to Manaton
We were all glad to get back home.
So I am officially through with following the badly written directions of random morons on the internet.  I have booked myself onto a compass & map reading course and I'm looking forward to getting lost on Dartmoor many more times.  Until then perhaps I should stick to familiar routes.  But, on second thoughts, nah - what would be the fun in that?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

a walk in the woods with 2 naughty dogs

Naughty dog no 1 - Maija.  It's hard to comprehend that I'm calling Maija a naughty dog, as she enjoys the distinction of being known as the very best behaved of our dogs.  However, in the instance of a walk in the woods with Tuuli, Maija is naughty dog no 1.  By herself, or with the older dogs, Maija is very easy.  She doesn't disappear for long, comes when she's called, and doesn't give us much grief on walks.  Add Tuuli into the equation, though, and Maija becomes suddenly and dramatically problematic.  She has been known to lead Tuuli off into the woods, only to return to us leaving Tuuli lost and nowhere to be found.

So on her lead she remains for long stretches of this 8km walk - i.e. anywhere she has run off before and found deer, badgers, foxes, squirrels or anything at all chase-worthy.  Once they have found such a prize on a walk, Lappies return to that spot forevermore just in case.  That's fine if the spot is 10 feet from the path, but when it's a km or more away, that's a different story altogether. 

Lots of opportunities for picturesque posing on this walk

Maija's lead in full view
Another part of the river, another rock

Naughty dog no 2 - Tuuli.  When running off-lead with someone else, Tuuli invariably becomes utterly deaf, taking no notice whatsoever of the people.  However, it has to be said, that as long as said "someone else" is under control (i.e. on lead like Maija), then Tuuli races ahead and runs in loops but doesn't disappear and always comes back when she's called.  In fact, as long as she has no running mate to lead her astray, Tuuli is the most reliably close of our dogs who rarely even goes out of sight.  Famous last words, and all that, but as far as sticking around goes, I can relax most when Tuuli is off lead.

So how did this paragon of off-lead walking earn the naughty moniker?  Well, like so many young Lappies she has the frequently-irritating and always-embarrassing habit of running, barking, up to dogs and people she meets.  All of my dogs did this as youngsters and they eventually grow out of it.  I live in hope that Tuuli, too, will someday find it less necessary to leap and yap at most people she meets.  Assuming she does occasionally listen and come back to me when when doing this, then she invariably stops infuriatingly short of my reach before tearing back for another round of leaping and yapping. 

I find myself yelling ahead to unsuspecting walkers, "she's noisy but friendly!"  Or those heart-sinking times when I see a runner off ahead on a trail, utterly oblivious to everything around him, including the small furry missile shooting through the forest towards him.  At moments like that I yell "TUULI COME!" a few times at the top of my voice.  I know she will pay no attention to me whatsoever, but at least I can warn the runner that there are others about, including out-of-control dogs.

"Was that a squirrel?"

"I think it went this way!"

Luckily, most people I encounter on my trails also have dogs with them, so they often smile, laugh, say hello, and on we all go.  Then there are those without dogs who sometimes do the same but who sometimes are afraid.  I find it facinating that Tuuli seems to sense that she is scaring these people and she actually stops and comes away.

Then there are people who are neither afraid nor amused.   Such as the people we met on this day last week.  The woman, striding ahead, smiled (a little), said good morning, ignored Tuuli and kept going.  Excellent.  Just the sort of people Tuuli ignores in turn.  The woman's walking-mate, however, stopped in his tracks in the middle of the path and glared at Tuuli.  Did he think he was going to frighten her away?  On the contrary, it simply amplified her reaction to him.  Then he glared at me as I was madly scrambling up the hill to grab the offending small barking creature.  I apologised to him profusely, as is my wont, but as usual when people are ungracious in the face of my apology, I admit to turning somewhat less than contrite.  Especially when he could not even screw up the civility to move out of the way so that I could drag the barking maniac past him.

I guess some people just enjoy wallowing in ire for the maximum time possible.  

On second thought, perhaps Tuuli is an excellent judge of character.

Lots of opportunities for paddling too

One of the hundreds of trees brought down by this year's storms
Beautiful lichen on a log
And some more

Moody river, dogless

Another rock - this time in the ancient wood
Naughty dog no 3 - Neka.  Did I say a walk in the woods with only 2 naughty dogs?  To be precise:  only 2 at a time.  And Neka's crime for which she is sentenced to on-lead walks?  Eating everything she finds.  Yes, everything.  Then there was the time she discovered a deer and didn't return for an hour.   Believe me, that doesn't have to happen very often to destroy your confidence in letting your dog off lead.  But mainly it's the eating thing.  And the resultant vomiting thing. 

Different day, different wood, different dogs
Same wood, different day, different dogs

I am very lucky to have several beautiful and different woodland walks within reasonably close proximity for regular weekly visits.  But I also yearn for longer, wilder walks.  And, fortunately, I have Dartmoor right on my doorstep.  And so I set out with backpack and 2 dogs for an adventure one day... and that's a whole other blog post.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

happy birthday to neka

Photo: Mark Treasure

 My Neka is 10 years old today.  My love affair with Lappies started with Neka.  I saw a photo in a dog book of a breed I'd never heard of before.  When I eventually got my own Finnish Lapphund she was exactly what I was hoping for - and grand-daughter of the book model who had caught my eye originally.

She is my pride and joy and the source of my occasional mortification.  She is clever and funny, stubborn and infuriating, and she makes me laugh everyday.  She has a wonderful way with other dogs - friendly but not a pest, submissive when necessary, and she's the one wading in to break up the fisticuffs anytime other dogs have an altercation.  She was a fabulous mother and is now an amazing granny, and my puppies are all extremely lucky to have her in their lives, keeping them all super-clean and teaching them how to play with toys.  
I'm delighted that her mother, Lumiturpa Pigga, is still going strong at the age of 15-and-a-half, and I'm counting on Neka racking up at least that many years.   As she is still mistaken for a puppy by people we meet, I'm hoping her youthful joie de vivre carries her through many more years to come.

Happy birthday Neka-noo, my Moo.

"I've put up with the brushing, now where is my liver treat?"

And here's how cute she was at 10 weeks.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

catch up on the pippuri litter

In addition to the birthday dogs, I have also been collecting recent photos of (some of) the Pippuri puppies who are now 4-almost-5 months old. 

Pippuri Talvi has passed her Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze award.  She's so young to have achieved this already - what a clever girl she is.  And good job, Liz, too!

Little sweetie pie Pippuri Fiia not looking very grownup yet.  On second thought... I'm sure her ears were the first up.  I think this is an old photo!  But very cute.

Pippuri Kai looking a big boy and sweet as can be.

Pippuri Kaito looking adorable with smiley face and ears up. 

Finally, over the weekend I had a chance to meet up with Pippuri Aatami (Tito) and managed to grab a few shots.

Soaked after a few water games with the boys

After a great Lappy walk in the warm sunshine at Bodiam Castle, I even managed to get a cuddle.  He was marginally more interested in getting to the other puppy on the ground just out of shot.

Friday, 14 March 2014

happy birthday

Very happy birthday to the Tuisku puppies who are four years old today.  FOUR!  I can hardly believe it.

They're a lovely bunch of grownup Lapphunds at four years, but at four weeks they were positively adorable.  Although it is my tradition to post photos of puppies in corresponding months or weeks of age to their current years of age, for some reason I can't locate the 4-weeks-old photos this morning.  So you will just have to make do with these from the 5-6-week-old pile.

Minna, Kallio, Usko, Kesa, Lana

Minna, Lana, Kallio

Kallio, Usko, Minna, Lana

Thursday, 13 March 2014

catch up on the riemu litter

Remember the Riemu puppies had a birthday recently?  Well I have now managed to collect some up-to-date photos of them all - so thanks bunches to their owners for them.

Photo shamelessly stolen from Maria's Facebook

Riemu Tiia looking like she's in the mood for a game of peek-a-boo.

Photo from Lexi's Instagram - but with permission

Riemu Kiittaa with Lexi after winning their class at Crufts.

Photo from Liz

Riemu Miila aka Miia snacking on a birthday chew.

Emmi photos from Jane... or possibly Mark...

Riemu Emmi all dressed up for her birthday party.  We're not crazy dog owners, honest.

The guests at the birthday party.  I don't think Jaana is impressed. 
Jacob photos from Sue

Riemu Kimi aka Jacob reading his birthday card which appears to have fabulous personalised artwork no doubt provided by his artist mum.

And having some sandy fun on the beach.

Mikko photos also from Sue.  Different Sue.

Riemu Mikko look at that amazing coat he has already at only 2 years old!

Pretty boy.